Lawyers for Donald Trump on Wednesday said the U.S. president has “absolute immunity” from a lawsuit by owners of the Cork Wine Bar in Washington, D.C., who claim that his ownership of a nearby hotel constitutes unfair competition.
Trump’s lawyers, in seeking a dismissal of the lawsuit by Diane Gross and Khalid Pitts, said the president cannot be forced to close or divest the Trump International Hotel, located in the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue, or else resign his office.
The doctrine of absolute immunity “ensures that the President can focus on carrying out the obligations of his Office without the distraction of virtually limitless litigation whose costs he would personally bear,” Trump’s lawyers said in a court filing. “That doctrine forecloses this lawsuit.”
Alan Morrison, a lawyer for the plaintiffs who is also a George Washington University Law School associate dean and co-founder with Ralph Nader of the Public Citizen Litigation Group, said he is reviewing the filing.
The lawsuit is one of many targeting Trump’s alleged failure to distance himself from his business empire while in office.
Trump has ceded day-to-day control over his businesses to his sons Eric and Donald Jr.
Gross and Pitts, who are married, said their wine bar has lost business because the Trump hotel and restaurants within it enjoy an unfair advantage.
They said this stems from their hotel’s association with the president and an expectation it will attract diplomats, lobbyists and politicians hoping to curry favor with him.
The Trump International Hotel opened in September, before Trump was elected. It is located roughly 0.7 mile southeast of the White House and 1.5 miles south of Cork.
The wine bar offers more than 50 wines by the glass, typically for $8 to $15, and said it has hosted events for White House officials, Congressional lawmakers, the World Bank and NARAL Pro-Choice America and the Sierra Club, among others.
In March, when the lawsuit was filed, a Trump Organization lawyer called it “a publicity stunt.”
Last month, the Trump Organization settled separate lawsuits with celebrity chefs Jose Andres and Geoffrey Zakarian, who had backed out of agreements to open restaurants in the Trump hotel.
The case is K&D LLC t/a Cork v Trump Old Post Office LLC et al, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, No 17-00031.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler)